There's been a lot of back and forth lately about the topic of using technology--namely, tablets and apps--in children's services, especially with regard to preschool-age children. A lot of it has been happening on list servs and in blog comments, and some of it has been heated; this is a topic about which librarians feel strongly. I think it's time I formally weigh in, at least preliminarily.
It probably comes as no surprise that I fall on the "pro" side: I do believe that mindfully adding technology to my youth services toolbox is a good, appropriate thing. I've used apps in story time and in school-age programs. I talk to colleagues about best practices and best apps. I actively seek out information that can help me make informed decisions about when, why, and how to incorporate what types of technology with children. And I have two main reasons for doing so.
It is my job as a youth services librarian to support and develop literacy, and literacy is multi-facted. So much press and conference time is spent on the message that librarians are early literacy experts. We should be, and we are, but early literacy is only part of the equation. I serve all children with all abilities from all backgrounds; limiting myself to early literacy is excluding a wide range of children I am meant to serve. Children--nay, all people--need competency with a variety of literacies in order to interact productively with the world. Thus I try very hard to support development of all literacies: early literacy, science literacy, cultural literacy, social literacy, and digital literacy. Yes, digital literacy is vital. In fact, research from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Alliance for Childhood, and Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment indicates that children who enter school without the ability to productively interact with and use technology are at disadvantages and deficits similar to those children who enter school without knowledge of letters and word sounds. I include technology in my children's services because it supports vital literacies, and not all children are able to access materials and develop skills elsewhere.
It is my job as a library employee to support my library's vision, which includes customer centered services. That bit about customer centered services is expanded on in our strategic plan, and it involves the following wording: meet the customers where they are. It is becoming ever more apparent, through both formal reference interactions and casual on-the-service-floor conversations and observations that caregivers are using this technology with their children. Using tablets and apps is where they are, and to support my library's vision--to do my job--it's where I need to be, too. I need to be able to engage in the conversations about the topic of technology with children. One way I can do that effectively is to demonstrate how technology can be a seamless part of life's activities where children are concerned. I can show how what adult customers already do with their kids can be done intentionally and meaningfully. Again, based on my library's vision, I believe that's my job.
This post doesn't even begin to touch on when and how I use technology in my services to children and their families. And while these are not the only reasons why I do incorporate technology, I believe they are the clearest reasons--perhaps the most obvious to me. As these conversations about the topic continue and develop, I know one of my benchmarks for assessing the services I provide will be the goals inherent to my position as a children's librarian within my institution.